Stephen's Reviews > The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
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Jun 13, 2011

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bookshelves: literature, classics, 1954-1969, audiobook, humor-and-satire, x-filing-and-secret-histories
Read from January 20 to 25, 2012 — I own a copy

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My first excursion into the Pynchonesque…and it left me disorientated, introspective and utterly confused about how exactly I feel about it. I’m taking the cowards way out and giving it three stars even though that makes me feel like I’m punting the responsibility football and doing my best imitation of an ostrich when trouble walks by.

I am going to have to re-read this. My assumption is that I began this book taking Pynchon a little too lightly. I decided to start my exploration of Pynchon here because it's widely considered his most “accessible” work. I figured even as addled as my brain is with wine sediment and Milk Duds, my big boy education would serve as an adequate navigator on this little journey.

Well, around page 21, I started getting that “I’m lost, have you seen my momma” feeling and there's not a single character in this story trustworthy enough to ask directions on how to get back to the plot.

This much I think I know:

Oedipa Mass (get used to monikers like that as every character’s name is a play on words) is a clever, self-motivated middle-aged housewife from California who isn’t above shagging the occasional stranger not her husband (hell it’s the 60’s). Oedipa’s ex-shag partner, Pierce Inverarity, dies uber-rich and leaves her as co-executor of his estate. Inverarity is a practical joker extraordinaire and so the idea that everything may not be as it seems is teed up immediately. However, Oedipa is the kind of woman who loves a mystery and she feels compelled to play the part that Inverarity has created for her.
If it was really Pierce's attempt to leave an organized something behind after his own annihilation, then it was part of her duty, wasn't it, to bestow life on what had persisted, to try to be what Driblette was, the dark machine in the centre of the planetarium, to bring the estate into pulsing stelliferous Meaning, all in a soaring dome around her.


Those first 20 pages were cake and I was feeling very much in control.

Then page 21……..through the rest of the novel (about 180 pages) send Oedipa (and the reader) on a fragmented, surreal, allusion-soaked, reality-bent/warped/twisted sojourn that felt a bit like a David Lynch/David Mamet collaboration where nothing and no one is anywhere close to what they seem. Dense, compact, multi-layered prose and some memorable oddball characters make the confusion plenty entertaining, but grasping the central core of the piece was rather elusive (at least for me).

The framing, edgework of the story is as historical mystery centered on an alleged vast conspiracy involving a secret, underground postal carrier network known as Trystero. The calling card/icon of this shadowy organization is:

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Which is a mockery of the horn symbolizing the real life postal carrier known as Thurn and Taxis.

Eventually, I gathered that the major theme being explored by Pynchon is the untrustworthiness of communication and that it’s impossible to verify information because the source is always distorted from the standpoint of the observer. Thus communication, when filtered through the lens of the recipient, often brings more confusion than enlightenment and more questions than answers. “Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate.”

At least I think that is what Pynchon was getting at in this book. My problem was that I didn’t clue into that until late into the story and by that time I was simply riding the crest of the enjoyable language and mini-scenes into the finish line. Having now read the book, I feel like if I were to go back and read it again knowing what I now know, I will be able to get far more out of it. I guess I might also realize that I am reading too much into it and the emperor really has no clothes.

For now, I will give Pynchon the benefit of the doubt. Based on his reputation, he has certainly earned it.

Even given my less than perfect understanding of the nuances moving through the narrative, there is much to enjoy. There are some wonderful scenes and character interactions that I loved For example, the The Courier’s Tragedy is a play that Oedipa sees that actually touches on the themes of the wider novel. I thought it was fascinating.

There is also some magnificent passages that I could read simply to enjoy the language.
Everybody who says the same words is the same person if the spectra are the same only they happen differently in time, you dig? But the time is arbitrary. You pick your zero point anywhere you want, that way you can shuffle each person's time line sideways till they all coincide. Then you'd have this big, God, maybe a couple hundred million chorus saying 'rich, chocolaty goodness' together, and it would all be the same voice.
Language like that is always a pleasure to read. However, without the glue of understanding all that Pynchon was attempting to say, my enjoyment was somewhat muted.

That’s just me.

I enjoyed the experience of reading this and, as I mentioned to a GR friend the other day, I have thought better of this book during the days since I finished this than I did while I was actually reading it. That tells me that the book affected me and seeped into my brain more than I was able to consciously detect. Maybe that’s how Pynchon works, I’m not sure. However, it is a question I plan to investigate by visiting his other works as well as returning to this one.

3.0. Recommended (though a bit confused).
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 81) (81 new)


message 1: by Daniel (new)

Daniel This is the only Pynchon I've read. I liked it.


s.penkevich Awesome, I'm excited to see what you think of this book. It left me with so much to mull over.


Stephen s.penkevich wrote: "Awesome, I'm excited to see what you think of this book. It left me with so much to mull over."

I am still trying to gather my thoughts about it. It seems as though I liked the book more after I finished it than while I reading it. Definitely one I will re-read at some point.


s.penkevich I can understand that, glad you liked it though. While reading it I kept wondering where he was trying to go with it and realized there was plenty of deeper meaning that was eluding me. The non-ending left me puzzled and I think it wasn't until the next day, mid-workshift that I had the 'Eureka!' moment and it came together.


Stephen s.penkevich wrote: "I can understand that, glad you liked it though. While reading it I kept wondering where he was trying to go with it and realized there was plenty of deeper meaning that was eluding me. The non-end..."

I know exactly how you feel. This is one that screams for a second reading.


s.penkevich I agree. When you do let me know, I'll hit it up again too.


Stephen s.penkevich wrote: "I agree. When you do let me know, I'll hit it up again too."

Sounds like an excellent plan.


Richard Derus I guess I might also realize that I am reading too much into it and the emperor really has no clothes.

Maybe both. Clever, grandstanding showoff writes profound meditation on the nature of communication, the inherent unreliability of perception as a guide to intention or spur to action, and the tendency of all human beings to solipsistically measure out their lives in coffee spoons.

Think this bad boy confused you? Take an oxygen mask and a TomTom when you attempt to summit V.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Good review Stephen.


Stephen Richard wrote: "I guess I might also realize that I am reading too much into it and the emperor really has no clothes.

Maybe both. Clever, grandstanding showoff writes profound meditation on the nature of communi..."


I'm not ready for that...please don't make me. My brain might crack.


Stephen Wesley wrote: "Good review Stephen."

Thanks, Wesley.


message 12: by Lawyer (new)

Lawyer Stephen, thanks for your review. You've trekked where this angelic reader has feared to go. Me, well, I finished Richard Stark's "The Hunter" today. *chuckle*


message 13: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Great review Stephen, but as easily as I become confused, I may have to pass.


Stephen Stephanie wrote: "Great review Stephen, but as easily as I become confused, I may have to pass."

Understood, Stephanie. My brain is still a bit pretzeled. It was a good experience, though.


Stephen Mike wrote: "Stephen, thanks for your review. You've trekked where this angelic reader has feared to go. Me, well, I finished Richard Stark's "The Hunter" today. *chuckle*"

Love The Hunter. I've read the first three and am looking forward to continuing the series. Parker is a favorite character of mine.


Richard Derus Stephanie wrote: "Great review Stephen, but as easily as I become confused, I may have to pass."

Soldier, ask not! Wait...wrong quote...horseman, pass by! Yeah, that's the one.


Richard Derus Stephen wrote: "I'm not ready for that...please don't make me. My brain might crack."

Or you'll start to smoke crack, one or the other.

Listen, ducks, for all of me you can never interact with this Joyce-cum-Gertrude Stein wannabe. I think he'll be a footnote to a footnote in a few years. Tedious to be talked down to at such length.


message 18: by Bennet (new) - added it

Bennet You might want to check out Inherent Vice. It's the first Pynchon in which I didn't keep losing the story in the delirium of language and allegory.


Stephen Richard wrote: "Stephen wrote: "I'm not ready for that...please don't make me. My brain might crack."

Or you'll start to smoke crack, one or the other.

Listen, ducks, for all of me you can never interact with th..."


I so love your fantastic ability to poke pins in the overly puffed.


Stephen Bennet wrote: "You might want to check out Inherent Vice. It's the first Pynchon in which I didn't keep losing the story in the delirium of language and allegory."

Thanks, Bennett. I have that one already so it might make a nice follow up.


message 21: by Bennet (new) - added it

Bennet I recently did a review if you care to check it out. : )


Richard Derus Stephen wrote: "I so love your fantastic ability to poke pins in the overly puffed."

Pointless pretentious overwriting irritates me like Tabasco on a bedsore.


Stephen Bennet wrote: "I recently did a review if you care to check it out. : )"

I just read it. Excellent review, Bennett. I really enjoyed it.


Stephen Richard wrote: "Stephen wrote: "I so love your fantastic ability to poke pins in the overly puffed."

Pointless pretentious overwriting irritates me like Tabasco on a bedsore."


Ouch, that smarts just thinking about it.


s.penkevich I gathered that the major theme being explored by Pynchon is the untrustworthiness of communication and that it’s impossible to verify information because the source is always distorted from the standpoint of the observer.
I think that sums up this novel quite perfectly. You were able to put into words what took me hours of pondering and reflecting and could never have composed as concisely.
This is a great review!


Stephen Thanks, s. That is very nice of you to say. I am glad that my comment made sense to you. I was curious what you would think.


message 27: by Rachel (new) - added it

Rachel He wrote a fantastic short story titled "Entropy". I loved it so much I wrote a finals paper on it a few years ago. It wasn't confusing... and it gave me the incentive to read Gravity's Rainbow. I haven't finished Gravity's Rainbow. In fact, I've started it twice, haha!


message 28: by Anne (Booklady) (new)

Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo He's hard to read sometimes, other times he isn't. I feel the same with Michael Dibdin. Dibdin uses italics for phone dialogue as well as thoughts of his characters - sometimes within the same paragraph.


Stephen Anne (Booklady) wrote: "He's hard to read sometimes, other times he isn't. I feel the same with Michael Dibdin. Dibdin uses italics for phone dialogue as well as thoughts of his characters - sometimes with..."

Is Dibdin someone you would recommend reading?


Stephen Rachel wrote: "He wrote a fantastic short story titled "Entropy". I loved it so much I wrote a finals paper on it a few years ago. It wasn't confusing... and it gave me the incentive to read Gravity's Rainbow. I ..."

I will have to try and track that down. Thanks for the recommendation.


message 31: by Anne (Booklady) (new)

Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo Stephen wrote: "Anne (Booklady) wrote: "He's hard to read sometimes, other times he isn't. I feel the same with Michael Dibdin. Dibdin uses italics for phone dialogue as well as thoughts of his ch..."

Yep! He won the Golden Dagger Award among others, Stephen.


Stephen Sounds good to me. I will give him a try. Thanks.


message 33: by Apatt (last edited Jan 25, 2012 09:48PM) (new)

Apatt Great review, though in my dazed state I thought you wrote "Pythonesque" and looked for lumberjacks and dead parrots references :D

Pynchon's books are probably beyond me.


Richard Derus Monty Pynchon...I see a very fun mashup in this idea....


Stephen Apatt wrote: "Great review, though in my dazed state I thought you wrote "Pythonesque" and looked for lumberjacks and dead parrots references :D."

Thanks, Apatt....and LOL on the Monty python references. I wish I had thought of that.


Stephen Richard wrote: "Monty Pynchon...I see a very fun mashup in this idea...."

That could be very funny.


Richard Derus It could. I am too tired to think anything up. One more reposted review from LT and I ***have*** to sleep. Which one requires the least rewriting? That is the question. Whether tis nobler...wait...hallucinating...why are you holding a skull? And my name's not Yorick. I thought yours was.


message 38: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Great review, Stephen.

I can't believe that Pynchon muted your horn! There must be something symbolic in that.


Susanne Nice review. Also, glad that it's not just me. We read this in uni, and I can't remember a single bit of plot because I got so, so lost. Have been wondering whether I should try again...


message 40: by Jana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jana Susanne, let's re-read together! I read it for fun (I don't think I took the class this was required reading for) and I loved it. I didn't understand most of it, I'm sure, and my thoughts after reading the final sentences were along the lines "You gotta be kidding me!!," but I thought it was really, well, cool - I was fairly young and impressionable back then. :o)


Susanne Jana wrote: "Susanne, let's re-read together!"

Oooh, yes, let's play book club! ;) Say when!


message 42: by Jana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jana Susanne wrote: "Jana wrote: "Susanne, let's re-read together!"

Oooh, yes, let's play book club! ;) Say when!"


I'm firmly in the grip of a YA/children's book phase, so this might not be the best of times to start on Pynchon. :o) I've already located my copy on my shelves, though (stupid move messed up my organisation!).


message 43: by Crowinator (new)

Crowinator I should really re-read this. It's been a looong time. Excellent review Stephen.


Stephen Ian wrote: "Great review, Stephen.

I can't believe that Pynchon muted your horn! There must be something symbolic in that."


Thanks, Ian. I blame Trystero.


Stephen Susanne wrote: "Nice review. Also, glad that it's not just me. We read this in uni, and I can't remember a single bit of plot because I got so, so lost. Have been wondering whether I should try again..."

Thanks Susanne. I'm glad I'm not alone in this.


Stephen Crowinator wrote: "I should really re-read this. It's been a looong time. Excellent review Stephen."

Thanks Crowinator. I enjoyed the writing and had fun with the individual scenes. Pulling it all together into a coherent whole was a bit of a challenge.


message 47: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Stephen wrote: "Ian wrote: "Great review, Stephen.

I can't believe that Pynchon muted your horn! There must be something symbolic in that."

Thanks, Ian. I blame Trystero."


Good answer. They did the same to Miles Davis.


Stephen They are everywhere. Beware of W.A.S.T.E.


message 49: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Beware the tenant who damages the property of the landlord, so creating "The Waste Land".

Pynchon V. Stearns 11 Metcalf (Mass.), 304. - 1846.

Was this an ancestor of Pynchon suing an ancestor of Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot?

We need a property lawyer on the case.

It's either Stephen or George Clooney.


Stephen Kat wrote: "Alas, I am not looking for this particular sort of challenge at the moment. But as always, I did enjoy your review, Stephen."

Thanks, Kat. This is definitely not "light" reading, but it was entertaining in a whirlwind sorta way.


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